How 2U's Liza Ramo Sessler Manages Professional & Personal Growth
Liza Ramo Sessler isn't afraid of change. In fact, she's built a life around embracing it.
From starting out her career in PR to working as a technical writer at IBM, from leaving that job to attend a coding boot camp and transition careers again, and from taking a break from being a coding instructor to travel the world for over a year, Liza is no stranger to transitioning between industries, roles, and locations.
Now, living in Austin and working remotely as a Senior Software Engineer and Tech Lead at online education company 2U Inc., Liza is navigating a different kind of change: being a new mother during a global pandemic.
But by leaning on the skills and values she's always had—like collaboration, curiosity, and a willingness to teach and learn—and adopting some new ones along the way, Liza is making these latest changes work for her, her family, and her career. We sat down to hear more about her story.
Leaning into the pivot
When she was in college at Chapel Hill, Liza was sure she wanted to work in PR. But upon graduating and moving to New York, the environment she found there wasn't quite her style.
"It was really cutthroat, and I just wasn't totally enjoying it," she says. That led to her first pivot, which was into technical writing at IBM.
"They purposefully hired people that didn't have a technical background because the content that we were writing was public-facing, and they wanted it to be as engaging as possible," she says.
While she enjoyed the role and the environment, she realized that she wanted to be building things, not just explaining them, so she attended a General Assembly (GA) boot camp on a Google scholarship.
"It's scary to not have an income for three months, but I had nothing to lose," she says. It felt like the right time to make that big switch, too. "A friend said that if you're going to make a change, do it all the way, before it's really hard to make that switch," she says. "That really helped me a lot."
Liza says she got used to "staying up all night long for three months straight—great practice for having a baby!" before being hired into her first developer role. She found the work interesting, but missed being in a learning environment, so she pivoted again and became a coding instructor for the GA bootcamp she'd graduated from.
That gave her a chance to create the kind of environment where more people could succeed.
Whether working as a technical writer or a developer or an instructor, all of Liza's jobs in the tech space have played into her natural sense of exploration and curiosity. "In PR or marketing, you kind of always feel like you have to give these really well-formed answers to things," she says. "In the engineering world, you don't have to do that. It's a really great place to scrape your knees and just say 'I don't know, let's find out together.'"
Packing up that curiosity
While working as a coding instructor, Liza decided it was the right time to make use of the travel fund she'd been contributing to for over a decade. "I had always dreamed of traveling," she says.
So Liza and her now-husband sold their furniture, packed a backpack each, and set off, traveling to 35 countries over 14 months, staying with family in Europe and Israel and visiting "as many far-fetched places as we could," says Liza.
Most impressively, Liza didn't let the stress of finding a job upon her return dim the excitement of the trip. "I just kept thinking, it's really not worth worrying about right now because I'm in Switzerland and these mountains are beautiful and I waited my whole life to do this," she says.
(It also didn't hurt that her husband is a developer too, so they opted to spend a week in a tiny coastal town in Australia and "do nothing but code and play," to get the ball rolling again.)
Finding the right environment at 2U
When Liza did come back to work, it was at Trilogy, an all-remote startup that created turnkey bootcamp solutions for universities.
When Trilogy was acquired by education company 2U, her work expanded. She's now the tech lead for student-facing products across 2U's business, which includes creating customized solutions for different short courses, boot camps, professional certificates, undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Her work allows her to lean into the empathetic teaching she loved doing as an instructor, only now she's doing it from the inside, as an advocate for her products' users.
"At the end of the day, whether it's dealing with stakeholder requests or business restrictions or not having enough resources, it just doesn't matter—you have got to give a good product to the end users, which in our case are students," she says. "I've been an instructor and you can see the immense amount of pressure that is on those students; they have given up so much to be there and they need to focus on the content."
From building intuitive attendance tracking or assignment submitting tools, Liza makes sure her team keeps students in mind, and she takes that same energy to the rest of the company's stakeholders. "Users don't care about bells and whistles," she says, "especially because the platform here is not the product—it's really the curriculum. What our users really want is for existing features to work even better so that they can have a really easy time while they navigate through the product."
Leaning on her team
Liza is good at dealing with change, but adjusting to life as a new mom during a pandemic was a particularly big wave of change to deal with all at once.
First came the pandemic changes. Luckily for Liza and her team they were already used to working remotely from their Trilogy days. However, the extra support 2U provided was greatly appreciated.All employees received a home office stipend—which Liza used for a bike desk!—and there was regular leadership encouragement to take mental health days as needed.
Then Liza had to start planning her maternity leave. She had 12 weeks of paid leave, with an option to come back part-time for 30 days and be paid for the hours that she worked, which she took.
"I thought maternity leave was going to be like cuddling with the baby on the couch and watching a movie. And I don't think that happened once," she says. "I really needed that time to be with my little family and try to figure stuff out. And it was really nice to not have to have any work obligations whatsoever." (And, she notes, she benefitted from not even having the temptation to check in—2U's policy is to deactivate Slack and email accounts when employees are on leave.)
Most importantly, she knew she could take that time off because of how much she trusts her team. After being the only woman on the tech team at her first developer job and the only woman instructor during her time at General Assembly, she's particularly thrilled to have a more balanced team at 2U.
"The number one thing that's been helpful is that half my squad is women, so they just get it. I don't have to explain anything. It wasn't a big deal when I went out on leave. It was just like, 'No problem, I gotcha,'" she says. She adds, smiling: "And that's why it's so important to hire women in technical fields. Thank you for coming to my TED talk."
When she came back part-time, she became "very, very intentional" about how she spends her time. "If people wander off topic in meetings, I have to say, 'Yeah, we gotta get back to this or I have to leave this meeting because I have work to do, and I can't do it later,'" she says.
The development of superhuman time-management skills didn't come as a surprise, however. Her days as an instructor taught her that people with small children are the best students, and now she knows they're the best employees, too. "They have to get things done," she says.
Thanks to the environment at 2U—which affords her the flexibility and autonomy she needs to get things done on a schedule that works for her and her family—she's navigating yet another major life change with poise and confidence.
Encouraging others to embrace change
If you're considering a major life move like one of the several Liza has orchestrated over the past few years, here are her top three tips:
- Do your research. "It's not like I woke up one day and was like, 'Okay, I'm going to do this,'" she says. "It's a lot of research and talking to people; it's a calculated risk."
- Chip away at what scares you. If you're nervous to leave your current job and go into your dream field because you hate interviewing, you could do an interview—simulated or actually scheduled—every single day for 30 days, says Liza. "It sounds so gross and startup-y, but you need to find those areas where you can safely fail," she says. "Call it iterating rather than failing."
- Recognize that your career is an investment in yourself. If you'd prefer to be doing something else with your work or with your life, it's worth pursuing that. "You can start really, really small, but just start," she says.
💎 Are CallRail's engineering teams the right fit for you? Watch the video to the end to find out!
📼 Engineering teams at CallRail encourage collaboration, communication, and empathy. Ayana Reddick, Senior Software Engineer at CallRail, shares what they are looking for in candidates and tells you why you’ll thrive there.
📼Engineering teams want candidates who have a growth mindset, love to learn, and are really good at communication. They also value team members who are excited about solving problems and working collaboratively. If you think you have what it takes, don't hesitate to apply.
📼At CallRail, engineering teams use Ruby on Rails for their backend, Angular on their frontend, and PostgreSQL for persistent data. They also use Jira for creating and tracking tickets, GitHub for their version control, and AWS for many cloud tools. Get familiar with these resources if you want to join them!
Engineering Teams And Diversity - Company’s Culture
CallRail seeks to hire from underrepresented groups. They pride themselves in selecting from a pool of very diverse candidates. They value the work that people do over their resumes. They encourage people to take their authentic selves to work. And they strive to create a supportive and welcoming environment. For this, they have Employee Resource Groups, that give voice to, provide safe spaces for, and educate the company at large. Some of their ERGs include the Rainbow Coalition, Black and Brown, Women Circle, and more.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining CallRail? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Ayana Reddick
If you are interested in a career at CallRail, you can connect with Ayana on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About CallRail
CallRail is here to bring complete visibility to the marketers who rely on quality inbound leads to measure success. Their customers live in a results-driven world, and giving them a clear view of their digital marketing efforts is the priority for CallRail. They see the opportunities in surfacing and connecting data from calls, forms, and beyond—helping their customers get to better outcomes.
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
“In my early twenties, I wasn’t the best at saving money. So, when I got the job at Nike and found out a financial coach was offered to me — for free! — I thought, ‘It’s time to be an adult. I should use this service to help me learn how to buy stock, tell me what I’m doing right with my money and where I can improve.’”
That’s Ashlee Bobb, Nike Media and Influencer Relations Manager, on the free, unlimited access to financial coaching offered to every U.S. Nike employee through EY Navigate™. EY coaches are trained on Nike’s benefits and programs, so Ashlee was able to work with her coach on a budget and savings plan utilizing Nike’s 401k match and Employee Stock Purchase Plan – all in one 45-minute session. She left the meeting feeling confident about what her next paycheck would look like and how her money would work for her.
“The EY coaches are really willing to come on the journey with you,” Bobb says, adding that hers was willing to work with the fact that, hey, she’s not going to give up take out, but still wants to save for the future. “The cool thing is I can see how this financial guidance could help me down the road when I decide to get married, buy a house, have a kid. Every Nike employee should take advantage.”Sound like the kind of company you want to be a part of? Check out our open roles on jobs.nike.com
Erika Morrison is a naturally passionate and encouraging leader. From leading her family in giving back to their community, to coaching adolescents in track and cheer, to managing her team at Light & Wonder during the pandemic, her experience is rich with lessons to share with up-and-coming leaders.
“I believe in motivation, positivity, inspiring, finding the good in everything, everybody,” she says. In addition to 30+ years in the tech field, Erika is a wife, a mother of two, an avid exercise lover, and has even been a small-business owner.
We sat down with Erika to hear about the experiences that have led her to her current role as a Software Engineering Manager at Light & Wonder, as well as three practical ways to lead with purpose.
Seeing Potential in Others
Erika has always been fascinated by the world of technology. Growing up, she loved cassette tapes, DVD players, phones, and whatever other gadgets she could get her hands on. When her dad brought home a PC Junior, it didn’t take long before she started programming on it. She designed her own trivia game, using what she learned in her middle school programming classes. “I was typing the questions in and programming the answers. I had a blast writing it and showing it to my family. I remember I wanted to show everyone what I made. That was my first real desire to get into programming.”
Erika followed that instinct into college where she majored in Business Administration and minored in Computer Science. The kickstart to her tech career came when she landed a computer operating job while still in school. She comments, “I was originally applying for a secretarial position at this company. But someone looked at my studies and experience and saw potential in me. I didn't think I was ready for that because I was still so young, I was still in school.”
Erika went on to work as a programmer analyst and software engineer for multiple major Casino based companies. During this time, she even started and ran a local event-planning business, which fine-tuned her skills in successful customer service.
Then, someone saw potential in Erika again. A former coworker reached out and offered her a leadership position with the company that would become Light & Wonder. Erika took on the role of Software Engineering Manager and says “it’s been opportunity after opportunity ever since.”
Managing Through the Pandemic
Erika believes that the best way to lead a team is to really get to know its members. “A lot of leading is knowing the people on your team,” she explains. “Know what each person needs — What may work for one person may not work for someone else. We have to take a little bit of who they are into consideration when attempting to motivate, to coach, to inspire because we're not all motivated by the same things.”
Prior to the pandemic, Erika and her team worked together in the office, which gave her the opportunity to do so. Once the pandemic hit, however, she had to pivot to incorporating virtual meetings to be able to generate that intimacy. She organizes bi-monthly check-ins with her team members where she intentionally asks for their individual preferences on communication and feedback.
“I have one-on-ones with each of my staff every two weeks. We go over the issues that they've had and then any questions or concerns or anything that they want to chat about. Sometimes it's business and sometimes it's personal. But, I feel like taking that extra time out just to have those conversations is extremely important.”
She also cohosts weekly remote Friday cocktail hours to cultivate her team’s relationships and check in on their mental health. “During the Friday cocktail hours, we would relax, ask some questions, or play some games. And it was nice to have that interaction again and connect with the team. It also allowed me to check in on everyone's mental health and make sure that if there was anything that we could do, we were here.”
Inspired to Encourage the Team
Erika is inspired by the example of her past and current mentors and their vision for her professional trajectory. She acknowledges that it was thanks to key people who saw her potential that she has been able to have these experiences. Erika’s own personal drive and passion for encouraging and uplifting others have led her to love her leadership position.
As a manager, Erika seeks the highest level of respect and excellence for her customers, while creating an encouraging work environment for her team. “I want to make sure that my team has everything that they need in order to succeed and get their jobs done the way they want to. I want them to have the level of success that they want.”
Erika ensures that her team members feel their significant contribution to the company and how they are serving with purpose. “We need to feel like we are part of something significant,” she says. “That’s my goal as a leader and for my team.”
3 Ways to Lead with Purpose:
Drawing from her experiences as a tech leader, business owner, coach, and community volunteer, she gives us three practical ways to lead with purpose in whatever context.
- Understand the “why”. “It’s extremely important to know the why of your company. Once you understand it from the company’s perspective, you can communicate it clearly to the team. And once you get that down, you’re able to help build a strong path for them to follow so that both “why’s” are in alignment. Knowing the why of your individual team members allows you to better manage, assist, and build a relationship with them.”
- Build consistency. “I think it’s very important that we are consistent and don't deviate from the why and the task at hand. Building consistency with others motivates and inspires people to give their best, even when we don’t feel like it. When dealing with a change or a huge transition, it’s extremely important to stick to the why’s, the steps we’re taking, and the right attitude."
- Remain positive. “You have to find positivity in everything because no matter what, it could always be worse. We can always find the negative things, but there are also always positive things. As a leader, I need to be empathetic, kind, and encouraging no matter what. It’s extremely important that I’m positive and involve my team members in the process.”